McKinnon’s Bride by Sharon Harlow
(Harlequin Hist. #652, $5.25, G) ISBN 0-373-29252-X
Jessie Monroe had no choice but to pack up her two children - Brad, age nine, and Ellie, age four - and travel by wagon to West Texas. Her husband had been shot to death by the mayor when he was caught in bed with the mayor’s wife. The scandal made continuing to live in East Texas an impossibility. Jessie hopes to seek assistance from her brother Quintin Webb until she can find some way to support herself and her children.

Her brother, however, is no longer an employee on Cade McKinnon’s ranch. She’s told he started a fight with the boss so was fired. Jessie is caught in a dilemma - she has practically no money or food left. She decides to try to get hired as McKinnon’s housekeeper.

Cade McKinnon falls in love with Jessie at first sight and quickly finds a place in his heart for her children. He is appalled by the details he learns of her first marriage. He is determined to marry Jessie and provide her with a happy life. Jessie’s initial reluctance to love and marry again begins to waver under Cade’s loving.

But there’s something he’s not telling her. He did not fire Quint. The fight was faked so that Quint could join a gang of rustlers and bring them to justice. What will Jessie do when she learns the truth?

Well, I’ll tell you. She plays that classic pea-brain romance heroine: “You lied to me! I can’t trust you anymore!”

Give me a break! Her late husband was scum through and through (in fact, the multiple facets of his villainy seem overdone), and she can’t tell the difference between how he acted and what Cade’s done? Why can’t we get heroines who don’t flounce off in a huff over the most minor incident, who actually listen to reasonable explanations and weigh their options?

Jessie is portrayed as a long-suffering, perfect-in-every-way heroine. She cooks, she cleans, she mends, she raises perfectly behaved children, she knows how to use a shotgun, and she isn’t deterred by a little adversity. This kind of heroine should use a little sense when she learns the true story about her brother.

In this western romance, the character development is mostly superficial with little attempt to probe underlying motivation. The male characters fall into one of two categories: good guys or bad guys. With Cade, of course, being really, really good.

Cade is a poor widow’s dream in any time period - he’s rich and absolutely dotes on her and her kids. Even though the story declares there’s a heavy male to female ratio in his part of the country in 1883, the wonder is no sweet young thing had caught his eye before. He has a brother who is co-owner of all their property and business concerns and looks to be just as good a catch. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him as the hero in a later book.

The main villain’s identity is pretty obvious soon after he’s introduced. It takes practically no time before he reveals his true character. A more shaded portrayal could help explain why he’s held in esteem by his neighbors. As it is, the question is why no one’s noticed he’s no good prior to the start of this story.

Author Sharon Harlow also writes inspirational romances under the name of Sharon Gillenwater, and McKinnon’s Bride doesn’t stray far from that course. In an era of some pretty steamy books, this is a sweet romance you can give your pre-teenaged daughter without redacting half the scenes.

I’ll just hope she remarks, “You know, Jessie could have handled that better.”

--Lesley Dunlap

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